Friday, July 17, 2009

Sayanora Japan, Ni Hao China

Date: Friday July 17
Travel: Flight: Oita to Haneda; Subway to Narita; Flight to Beijing; Taxi
Stay : Dorm
Early in the morning, I make my bitter goodbyes with my cousin, and start on my next journey. Taking the bus back, I actually get to the airport 4 or 5 hours prior to my flight and get to witness another bit of excellent Japanese service. I learned that there is a an earlier JAL flight, so I walk up to the counter and request to be put on the earlier flight. The first attendant couldn't speak English well, so she promptly grabbed her coworker who could. Being that I actually used American Airlines (AA) reservation and miles to book, JAL could not actually modify the reservation, but instead of just saying that I was SOL, she asked me to just sit in the lounge a bit, while the representative did all the legwork in finding the AA reservation desk and trying to change the reservation for me. Eventually she got me on the phone with an AA representative , I just had to verify some security information and acknowledge that I wanted to change my reservation. The whole process actually took almost 20 minutes and was a bit more painful then I described, but she did all the work for me (and with a smile), and right before I left, I had asked for her name, so that I could provide feedback to JAL. She started to blush and her coworkers were like looking at her, as if I had asked for her phone number or something. I guess this type of service is just expected here.
After boarding the airplane, I find another gesture of hospitality. I looked outside my window and I see a grounds crew made of 3 people, 2 standing on the ground with the traffic signals and 1 guy in the luggage cart driving in the opposite direction of us. As our plane was being backed out of the terminal gate, the crew completely stopped what they were doing (even the guy, and started to wave there hands, in complete unison in a slow robotic fashion. Even the guy who was driving had turned around inside his cart to perform this choreography. And it's quite amusing to see, because they all have these big bright yellow hats and gloves, and they looked like little robotic dolls. I look around inside the cabin to see if anybody even notices or cares, but that's just crazy attention to detail that SOMEBODY had to instruct the crew, because this is definitely not a natural gesture by grounds worker. I'm starting to wonder if you get whipped or something for not pleasing the customer.
After spending my extra little time shopping around Tokyo, I return to the airport. Then, there was another deed of good service I get to awe in. There is a program if you use the Narita Express that you get a ticket ride to Tokyo, plus 1000 Yen of usable transit credit on the a card. You could save that card for a souvenir, or return it at the office at the airport for a 500 yen refund. I decided to do the latter. As I returned the card, the representative didn't have the 500 yen at her desk, she actually ran to the back office. And I mean running, like a full on sprint. In the time it would take some folks to open a cash register in front of them and count the change, I got my 500 yen even quicker. There was only 1 person behind me, and I wasn't in a rush, so I was quite surprised. There seems to be pride in being efficient and being productive (something I should be doing right now), no matter what job it seems to be.
Inside the airport, I finally get to find the one thing I was looking forward to most, mochi ice cream. There was so many different flavors, and I just don't understand why it's so hard for me to find. Inside Narita airport, I get the benefits of enjoying the lounge, and wow it was nice. There was a lot of options of drinks and food, and fresh to order types of cuisine as well. I was very impressed.
I say sayonara to Japan, and ni hao to China. And what a shift from day to night, metaphorically, over a 2 hour flight. I go from such a wonderful service experience of Japan to, well..China. It was slightly past the height of H1N1 swine flu outbreak, and there was a scare of being quarantined for 7 days. So if you showed any signs of illness, you would be held for 7 days inside a hospital, (or a pit) with lack of proper care. As soon as we landed and parked, a representative from the airport walked into the airplane to verify no one had visible signs of illness. Then everybody else piles through the medical inspection like a bunch of chickens about to get their heads chopped off. There was no lines really, you just kind of poked through the crowd to walk through a body heat scanner. There also seems to be a handy device which scans your head for temperature, so not everyone has to slobber over the same thermometer. I started noticing that the workers here don't smile. Perhaps some would, but half of them at the airport were wearing masks. Besides all of that, the international terminal was beautifully architect-ed.
It was difficult to find help, and of course, nobody speaks english, at least not very well. I got a taxi driver who was fairly thick compared to what I was seeing further east. I tended to notice that through out the trip that people in China were a bit heftier then the folks in Japan. Anyways, as I tried communicating with the taxi driver, I thought he was barking at me, but that's just the tone and how people talk here. He knew the general location of the school I was staying at, which is where I would be meeting Kim and Dan. Once we got in the area it was a bit dark with gates locked everywhere. I thought he was going to dump me off in the area, but he was seem to keep questioning and pointing whether this was the place. I had no idea what to look for, so I showed him the address again and phone number. He signaled to me if I could call them, but I didn't have a phone that worked nor had any idea what to say. He ended up using his own cell phone and called the number, and after circling the blocks a few times, he parked in front of the location, walked out of the car and asked somebody if this was the place. I was quite appreciative of what he did, since he didn't look friendly, didn't smile and sounded like he was yelling at me. He could have just dumped me outside the street, but he knew I probably would have been lost or shot (maybe caned). Of course he was smiling after payment and a nice tip. After getting inside the dorm, I was again checked for my body temperature. What if I had a temperature, they would just reject me? I probably should have stayed at a hotel...but thats just not as fun sometimes. I mean, if I stayed at the hotel, I couldn't tell people that I thought the room had a thousand holes on the wall, only to find out on closer inspection that it was actually mosquito splats on the wall. Nor could I tell someone that you are not supposed to flush toilet paper down the potty, you are supposed to put it in the waste basket.
Welcome to China.

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